Audubon's Robins

The robins out back are growing at an amazing rate, looking more like full-grown birds by the hour. About two days ago they stopped acting so desperate for worms and bugs (no more open mouths wavering above the nest all day long) and started sitting around with this new "we're lazy birds" vibe.

Nineteenth-century bird illustrators were pretty crazy about portraying birds in and around their nests, and in looking up Audubon's version of the American Robin I find this domestic scene:

The birds behind my house aren't quite as big as Audubon's (yet), but they're getting there. (I'm also not sure that the adults feed their little buggers berries, as Audubon suggests.) But whatever: Audubon gets the nest exactly right, with the tidy mud lining sitting like a shallow bowl inside the spiral of twigs and grasses. Andrew Goldsworthy, take note.

Common nineteenth-century portrayals of "bird families" cast the members as happy, domestic, and often acting out desired human gender roles. So in this one, for instance (from the 1890s), we get a chivalric bird husband coming home after a hard day of work:

No matter, of course, that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds don't tend a nest or raise their young together.

What I like about Audubon's portrayal of the robins is that he shows a nest in chaos, demanding young, and a couple of frazed "parents." That's exactly what I've been seeing these past few days.

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